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Taken from CultureSonar (Mar 28, 2024)

The Funky Adventures of Bill Laswell

by Tim Kinley


Bill Lasswell Music Compilation
Album compilation image courtesy of the author


"In all the music that deals with experimental repetition, drum and bass, dub, various kinds of house music, there's always been a quality of atmosphere and ambiance."- Bill Laswell


Very few figures in American popular music have been able to juggle as many musical styles as producer, bassist, and one-time label owner Bill Laswell. Championing what he refers to as "Collision Music," Laswell has brought together musicians from various genres to create a musical gumbo of Rock, Jazz, Rap, and Ambient styles.


Starting in the late 1980s, Laswell cultivated a series of projects that involved various members of Parliament-Funkadelic. Because the P-Funk operation in the 1970s was so "in-house," the musicians weren't able to collaborate with other musicians on the outside.


Laswell's profile within the underground and world music scene saw a serious upgrade when he co-wrote and produced the hit instrumental Rockit by Herbie Hancock (which earned Hancock his first Grammy).



It's perhaps this collaboration that opened the door for Laswell to work with various Black music giants. The following is a deep dive into a series of innovative albums made between 1987 to 1995.


RHYTHM KILLERS-SLY AND ROBBIE (1987)


Sly and Robbie's fifth album for Island Records veered from the predominantly Reggae character of previous albums for Funk and dance-club rhythms. Aside from remakes of the Funk classics "Fire" by the Ohio Players and "Yes We Can Can," Rhythm Killers features exceptional original creations such as "Boops (Here To Go)," "Let's Rock" and the incredible "Bank Job." Bootsy Collins, Gary "Mudd Bone" Cooper, and Bernie Worrell lend their phenomenal Funk skill set to this project.


THE THIRD POWER-MATERIAL (1991)


For this eclectic exploration, Bill Laswell recruits the musical support of Sly and Robbie, the Jungle Brothers, Shabba Ranks, and Alaluddin Mansur Nuriddin of the Last Poets. P-Funk guitarist/vocalist Garry Shider, Michael Hampton, Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, and Bernie Worrell contribute prime P-Funk support, particularly on the 1973 Funkadelic classic "Cosmic Slop." "Playin' With Fire" and the magnificent "Glory" are guaranteed to take the listener into the next phase.



TRANSMUTATION-PRAXIS (1992)


Transmutation is where Funk and alternative metal, experimental rock, and dub collide into a bold and crazed musical statement. Praxis consists of Bootsy Collins on Space Bass and vocals, Buckethead on lead guitar, Bernie Worrell on synthesizers, organ, and clavinet, AF Next Man Flip working the turntables, and Brain on drums. This project would prove to be crucial to the development of Funk metal in the 1990s. "Animal Behavior" would prove to be the album's standout track.



THIRD EYE-HARDWARE (1992)


A modern-day reworking of the Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys concept is probably the best way to describe this album. BOG drummer Buddy Miles returns for this reworking in collaboration with guitarist Steve Salas and bassist Bootsy Collins. Strangely, the title of the band and the title of the album were switched once the album secured U.S. distribution, slightly changing the name of the album to Third Eye Open. "Got A Feeling" and a remake of the Bootsy Collins track "Leakin'" are immediate go-to tracks.



LORD OF THE HARVEST-ZILLATRON (1993)


As part of Bill Laswell's Black Arc Series, Lord Of The Harvest furthers Bootsy Collins' foray into the realm of Funk/industrial metal. Fellow P-Funk alumnus Bernie Worrell assists Bootsy in this mission, along with rapper Grandmaster Melle Mel and guitarist Buckethead. Unexpectedly, the album's second track "Bugg Lite" was featured in an episode of the Fox-TV series New York Undercover.



OUT OF THE DARK-O.G. FUNK (1993)


Original Funkadelic bassist Billy Bass Nelson (who invented the name Funkadelic) emerged through the Black Arc Series with his very first solo disc. Unlike other Laswell productions that lend themselves to very experimental pursuits, Out Of The Dark is a no-nonsense, Westbound-era influenced Plainfield, NJ long stroke. This entire project stomps. P-Funkers Jerome Brailey, Bernie Worrell, and Gary "Mudd Bone" Cooper assist Billy Bass in stomping the Funk into the ground.


BLACKTRONIC SCIENCE-BERNIE WORRELL (1993)


Bernie Worrell's second album for the independent Gramavision label serves as a P-Funk reunion of sorts, bringing George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Gary "Mudd Bone" Cooper, Fred Wesley, and Maceo Parker into a thoroughly impressive groove maneuver. The "Funk meets NYC Rap" mash-ups in the form of "Flex, the Vision," and "Won't Go Away" proudly exist next to higher-level updated P-Funk like "Time Was (Events In The Elsewhere)," and "Dissinfordollars." Blacktronic Science represents Bernie Worrell's most party-themed disc since his 1978 debut All The Woo In The World.



FUNKCRONOMICON-AXIOM FUNK (1995)


Easily the greatest P-Funk collaboration produced under Laswell's guidance, Funkcronomicon is perhaps the most P-Funk-defined project created outside of George Clinton's leadership (while still being a part of that project). While sporting Splankadelic artwork from Funkadelic illustrator Pedro Bell, Funkcronomicon comes extremely close to constructing an alternate P-Funk universe. Numerous P-Funk alumni appear on this double CD set as well as Jazz legend Herbie Hancock. There are some truly priceless moments on this album including "Hideous Mutant Freekz" (featured in the 1993 theatrical release Freaked), and what would become the last recordings of Funkadelic lead guitarist Eddie Hazel ("Pray My Soul", "Sacred To The Pain"). The overall theme of Funkcronomicon is simple and to the point: FREE YOUR MIND AND WATCH YOUR ASS B4 ALL OF THIS COMES TO PASS!!!



To be clear, this is only a partial list of Laswell's collaborations with Parliament-Funkadelic band members. Fast forward to 2022, severe health issues (compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic) have brought his musical and recording productivity to a grinding halt. Regardless of this unfortunate situation, his complex and diverse musical legacy is cemented in place.




 
 

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